Show me someone who doesn’t love crispy fried fish and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t like fish….period. But not all fried fish are equal. Some recipes call for so much batter that the fish inside is almost an afterthought. Batter is there for two reasons. First—crisp and crunchy are surefire additions to the pleasure of pretty much any food. Second—a successful batter coats the fish so that it gently steams inside its crispy overcoat. This batter that Ned Baldwin, my fishing and writing partner, came up with is super light and super crisp. It calls for regular all-purpose flour, and then rice flour–which is the flour that they use in tempura. Beer has long been used by camp cooks to lighten a batter (something about the bubbles and evaporating alcohol aerate the batter). A splash of vodka (more alcohol) cooks off to make it even lighter. If you don’t have vodka, then gin. And if you don’t have gin, then rum will work fine. If you are moved to make a cocktail while you are at it, I’m not going to tell you no
Salt the fish
Salt the fish to taste and set aside. Do it a few hours before you cook so that the flesh tightens up a bit. Any white-fleshed fish will work with this. I love cod, but redfish, bluefish (the lighter meat), a big walleye, lake trout, or even a Northern if you have the patience to take out the pin bones.
Mix the batter
½ cup white rice flour, plus more for dusting
½ cup all-purpose flour
¼ heaping teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup vodka (or gin or rum)
¾ cup lager beer (your brand of choice)
Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the vodka and beer, then whisk until smooth. Note: if you let the batter sit for a while before you fry up the fish, you may need to more liquid right before you fry. Your goal is a batter that’s a bit thinner than pancake batter so don’t be afraid of adding more beer.
Fry the fish
1½ pounds fish fillet, divided into 8 portions
½ teaspoon kosher salt
8 cups canola or grapeseed oil
Heat the oil to 350ºF in a deep fryer. If you don’t have a deep fryer a deep pot, like a cast iron kettle, is what I use. Check the temperature carefully with a thermometer.
Dip the fish in the batter. Using tongs (or very carefully with your fingers) lower the battered pieces of fillet about halfway into the hot oil for about 5 seconds (real one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi seconds). This sets the batter so that when you let go of the whole piece, it doesn’t sink to the bottom or stick to the other pieces. Let go and fry until golden, 2½ to 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the fish and drain on a rack or paper towels.
This recipe as well as many more are featured in the cookbook “How To Dress An Egg.” To purchase this cookbook click the link here.
Peter Kaminsky is a long time fly fisherman and author. His Outdoors column appeared in the New York Times for more than 30 years. He was a contributing editor to Field & Stream. Among his fishing books, the classic “The Moon Pulled Up An Acre of Bass. He is also the author of 17 Cookbooks including 7 Fires with Francis Mallmannn. He fishes New York Harbor a lot.”
All photos by the talented Will Hereford (@williamherford).